Amy Brandwein, chef-owner of Centrolina Mercato E Osteria, Washington, D.C., says more women are engaging in leadership roles at all levels of the industry.

Each March, the National Restaurant Association recognizes the impact women make on the restaurant industry. This year is even more significant because of COVID-19 and the upheaval caused not only by restaurant restrictions but by family schedules upended by school closures.

Pre-pandemic, women represented a significant portion of the industry’s workforce. In 2019, an Association survey found that 61% of adult women said they’d worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives, and 39% said the first job they’d ever had was in a restaurant.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held 56% of jobs in the industry—compared with 47% of jobs in the overall economy—as well as 70% of waitstaff positions. In addition, one-third of all U.S. restaurant businesses were majority-owned by women and 48% were at least half-owned by women.

What the future holds

While we don’t yet know the long-term effects the pandemic will have on the makeup of the workforce, or how many women-owned or operated restaurants had to close in the last year, we do know women will play a key role in how the industry rebuilds itself.

“Although the pandemic has dramatically altered industry employment and restaurant ownership, the post-pandemic environment for women will be one of increased employment and ownership,” said Hudson Riehle, the Association’s senior vice president of Research. “A growing economy will only accelerate those opportunities, as the industry continues its path toward recovery and revitalization.”

A silver lining exists

Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, noted that the pandemic affected a large number of women with school-aged children. Many faced furloughs, and some had to leave the workforce to care for their families. However, there is a silver lining.

“As the economy recovers, more women will return to the industry, many attracted by its flexible schedules,” she said. “Women will once again have an opportunity to grow and develop their careers.”

More women are engaging in leadership roles

Amy Brandwein, chef-owner of Centrolina Mercato E Osteria, Washington, D.C., indicated more women are engaging in leadership roles at all levels of the industry: in business ownership, hospitality, and beverage and culinary arts, among others.

“They’re using their collaborative and inclusive attributes to improve the culture and creativity of the field,” she said. “I’ve also observed that there’s a good deal of movement and changes in ownership happening in the industry. That is definitely creating more opportunities for women. It seems natural that CEOs and large brands are recruiting women in greater numbers to improve profitability and culture.”